Rick Williamson's commitment to UI veterans stems from witnessing his son's struggles adapting to collegiate and civilian life
Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For 24 hours, University of Iowa College of Dentistry Clinical Associate Professor Rick Williamson didn’t know whether his son was alive.

During his son’s tour of duty as a Marine in Fallujah, Iraq, Williamson learned that one of the three helicopters carrying his son’s unit had crashed, killing everyone aboard. He had to wait a full day to learn his son was not in the crashed copter.

Rick Williamson
Rick Williamson

“When he returned from Fallujah,“ Williamson says, “I was so relieved he was alive, I never considered the challenges he faced as a veteran returning to civilian life.”

Like many veterans, Williamson discovered his son (whose name has been withheld for privacy) could not turn off the “muscle memory” from his combat training. He enrolled in classes at Florida State University but found it difficult to relate to younger students who didn’t share his life experiences. Questioning whether he would ever readjust to civilian life, Rick’s son nearly re-enlisted.

“As a father, I felt helpless and had no skills to help him. I could only be his father and that was not enough,” Williamson says.

His son’s struggles inspired Williamson to help veterans at the UI who may be struggling with moving from the military to college or civilian life.

Earlier this year, Williamson teamed up with April Tressler, a West Point graduate, Navy veteran and Iowa dental student, to establish the UI Professional Student Veterans Group and Allies, an organization that welcomes veterans and others involved with or interested in veterans. The group partners with the UI Veterans Association to schedule activities for UI student veterans throughout the year.

Williamson also has been working with the UI administration to establish a veterans scholarship, and he successfully petitioned that Veterans Day be added to the university calendar.

Williamson’s involvement extends to several veteran-related projects. One includes a collaboration with the UI Foundation, Iowa Sports Foundation and the director of Adaptive Sports Iowa to provide disabled veterans with specially designed and built bicycles. He is also involved with a nonprofit organization, Patriotic Productions to help identify sponsors for a touring exhibit, “Remembering Our Fallen from Iowa.”

Earlier this year, Williamson received the Outstanding Faculty Advocate Award during the UI Veteran Reception.

“I really have not done anything all parents of a veteran would not also do if given the forum,” Williamson says.

Williamson’s active support is one reason why U.S. News and World Report has listed the UI among the Top 10 ranked schools that utilize federal initiatives to help veterans and service members complete their academic goals.

Williamson’s son found help for his transition to civilian life and academics. In 2008, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from Florida State and then in 2011 he received a Master of Science in human resources management from Nova Southeastern University while also working full time. He is now a talent recruiter with Amazon and a military ambassador in the Seattle area.

“I'm proud of my son's determination to find his own way and help other veterans in their transition from the military to civilian life and school and then to the workforce," Williamson says.